"The Murderous Fourth"
Our long and injurious fascination with fireworks.
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2009
On July 4, 1777, Philadelphia held the first organized Independence Day celebration. In his online Fourth of July Celebrations Database, the historian James R. Heintze quotes the Virginia Gazette as saying that the event "was celebrated with demonstration of joy and festivity." The festivities started at noon and continued into the night, when a fireworks exhibition "began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons."
From that day forward, fireworks have been part of U.S. Independence Day celebrations. And fireworks, particularly consumer fireworks used by untrained individuals, have been killing and injuring people ever since.
The most recent statistics on fireworks injuries and deaths come from 2007, when, according to NFPA’s Analysis and Research Division, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated 9,800 fireworks-related injuries. From 2001 to 2006, three people were killed annually in reported fires started by fireworks, and seven were killed directly by fireworks. (These two estimates may partially overlap.)
To reduce these numbers, NFPA and the American Academy of Pediatrics formed the Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks in 2002. NFPA’s stand against consumer fireworks actually began in May 1910, when members responded to an appeal for an attack "upon the national orgy of fire and noise," according to The Murderous Fourth, an NFPA bulletin (pictured) published in 1914. That year, the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that fireworks killed 40 people and injured 1,466. The bulletin proposed limiting the use of fireworks to "public parks during certain hours of the day, when the folly-hunters may kill and maim themselves and each other to heart’s content, without injuring other people, or destroying property by fire." The goal was to "minimize the disastrous results of our public folly during the years it may require to inspire in our people a desire for a rational kind of celebration."
Little did the writer realize that the years required to turn the U.S. public away from fireworks would stretch to 95 and counting. Currently, only Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island ban the use of consumer fireworks.
— Kathleen Robinson